Episode Title: Days Gone Bye
Original Airdate: 10/31/10
The one that started it all…
In the beginning, Rick Grimes, a small town sheriff’s deputy shot in the line of duty, awoke from a lengthy coma in the hospital completely alone. Confused, he wandered the deserted halls that gave off the impression of “war zone,” stumbling upon many dead bodies. Rick made his way to his equally deserted house, where his wife and son clearly packed and left in a hurry. A stranger by the name of Morgan found Rick and brought him up to speed on the horror the world fell into while he was unconscious. People became infected and died, but then came back, hungry for flesh. Morgan told Rick that his family probably headed to the safe zone in Atlanta, so after loading up on weapons, Rick went to find them. Unfortunately, Atlanta had become overrun by the undead, Walkers, and Rick became trapped in an abandoned tank, while his family and best friend found a small refugee camp outside the city.
I normally rewatch the previous season of TWD right before the new season begins, which means it’s been three and half years since I’ve watched this pilot episode in its entirety. It is still not only one of the show’s best episodes, but one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. Sometimes shows take awhile to find their footing, but not The Walking Dead. It had me at “hello.” Actually it had me when I watched the trailer and got excited that there would finally be a weekly zombie series.
“Days Gone Bye” sets up this world perfectly. Rick’s confusion, fear and isolation are thick throughout the episode. Of course we, the viewers know about zombies, but in this world Mr. Romero never made it in the film industry. So Morgan Jones has to explain what has been going on for an undetermined amount of time. He does state that the gas lines were cut about a month prior, but things were probably already ugly by then. (Of course, if you think about it too long, it’s highly illogical that Rick would have survived with no hydration for more than a week alone in the hospital, but we’ll just pretend that’s not a thing.) So we don’t know how, when or where this all began, but being in a small town, Morgan probably wouldn’t know either. In fact, such a small Southern town was probably one of the last places hit. (I did find it humorous that Rick’s mailbox was overflowing, like Lori and Carl took off for Atlanta, but the mailman was still making his daily deliveries to the abandoned neighborhood.) And then there is the startling revelation (if the viewer was not privy to the graphic novel) that Lori and Carl are alive and Lori has started an affair with Rick’s best friend, Shane.
Going back to the beginning means revisiting a lot of characters who have long departed (Shane, Lori, Dale) but more shocking are the ones who have changed not only physically but in personality. Despite his career in law, Rick was as innocent as little Carl when he woke up in the hospital. Though he probably adapted more quickly than most would, the contrast between now and then is shocking when you skip past the years of transition. And speaking of little Carl, we can take a good guess that maybe not quite two years has passed since the outbreak hit, thanks to Judith’s growth, but Carl sure hit a growth spurt like no other.
However, the change that really caught my attention this time around were the Walkers. In the opening moments, Rick comes across a small child Walker, who stops to pick up a stuffed animal. Later Morgan’s undead wife turns the doorknob to their house. The mob in Atlanta RUN for Rick, then bend down to get to him under the tank, then climb on top of said tank when he locks himself inside. And let us not forget Bicycle Girl dragging her half body as far as she did before Rick puts her out of her misery. What I’m getting at is that the Walkers in the beginning seem far more capable of things that we never see anymore, and haven’t in a long time. I wonder if the Walkers we’ve seen over the past few seasons are so far gone that they’ve lost the same abilities as the “fresher” Walkers in the pilot, or if it was simply more of a choice by show creator Frank Darabont, in the only episode he directed, that didn’t continue with the show.
Despite this little random quirks, the episode delivered plenty of intrigue in its 97 minutes, without being very action packed. It relied more on atmosphere and characters to get the viewers to return for more, which certainly worked. That cliffhanger with a trapped Rick and Glenn on the radio didn’t hurt either.